By 1966, I wanted to ride so bad I could taste it. Unfortunately, at the time I had no dough and little prospect of getting any, which put a serious crimp in my plans to buy any type of bike. Serendipitously, a family friend who’d been a partner in a defunct scooter rental business offered me three junked Rabbit 90 scooters. If I could get one of them running, I could keep it.
At the time, it was difficult, in fact practically impossible, to find books on general motorcycle repair. The only things readily available were OEM, model-specific shop manuals, and they cost anywhere from $2.00 to $5.00 bucks apiece. Fortunately, the local library had an ancient Motors General Auto Repair Manual sitting on the shelf and with that I managed, in a broad sort of way, to puzzle out some basic principles of automotive technology, circa 1950, and extrapolated that into some foggy notion of what I needed to know about repairing broken down scooters. Eventually I was able to build one runner out of the three hulks.
A succession of other bikes followed, but by the time I’d acquired a motorcycle license, I’d worked my way up to a Suzuki X-6 Hustler, a motorcycle that was on the cutting edge of performance back then. The X-6 needed a fair bit of maintenance. I had to pull the heads and barrels to de-carbonize it on a regular basis, in large part because I was too cheap to buy two-stroke oil for it, and the cheap 30-weight I poured into its injection system left a lot of residue. But by then I’d acquired some knowledge and was on my way to becoming something of a shade tree mechanic, so the job never took more than an hour or two.
At the ripe old age of 17, I could—in broad strokes, at least—explain how a two-stroke engine differed from a four-stroke, and how they both functioned, though it would at best have been a very rudimentary discussion. I knew how to change the oil, adjust the chain and keep the cables adjusted, and eight times out of ten, I could replace a tire without pinching the tube. I could also perform a basic tune-up, at least on the bikes that could be timed with a strobe light; I’d learned how to do that at the side of Mr. D, my high school auto shop teacher, who had the patience of Job. The nuances of using a dial indicator or degree wheel to accomplish the same task escaped me, though I eventually got to be a fair hand at using both.
Though I didn’t work there long, it remains, to this day, the best job I ever had, in large part because of the friends I made and still have "
During my senior year of high school, I finagled my way into a job at the local motorcycle shop. Though I didn’t work there long, it remains, to this day, the best job I ever had, in large part because of the friends I made and still have to this day.
Eventually, my interest in motorcycles and their inner workings led me to my own dealership and eventually to these pages. Along the way I’ve provided for my family, made more friends than I can count and had more fun than you can imagine. In fact I’ve often had more fun than was good for me.
In a word, I’ve been blessed, especially when I consider that my other career interests (which, at different stages of my life involved becoming a commercial fisherman, a City of Philadelphia cop and a newspaper reporter) would have most likely had less than harmonious outcomes.
The reason for this short trip down memory lane and very condensed version of my less-than-illustrious life is this; none of what I’ve accomplished would have been possible if I hadn’t first become involved with motorcycles, and by extension how to work on them.
Everything that’s made my life what it is has its roots in that desire to ride and repair motorcycles, and I’m reminded of that every time I see some youngster messing around with an old bike.
Whenever school’s out, there’s a crew of local urchins that rides the trails near my house. I’m not sure where they live, but it’s close enough to run their MX bikes down my road without getting pinched by the revenuers. Most of their iron appears to be pretty rough, only a hard shift or two away from the bone yard, and judging by the sound of them ripping through the woods they don’t show them any mercy. I presume they’ve already learned something about repairing their bikes—I can’t imagine they’d be riding so often if they hadn’t.
Some of my neighbors complain about the noise, especially on a summer evening, and I understand that a whining two-stroke can grate on you. Me? I don’t mind it in the least. I think it’s great that the kids are out riding instead of getting into whatever mischief kids get into these days, and I truly hope they’ll stick with motorcycles. Besides, whenever I hear them, I can’t help but think of that scrawny kid and his hacked-together scooter, and how far that old junker took him.